Examining the word “hell” in the NT

The term “hell” is found twenty-three times in the King James Version of the English Bible. There is a great deal of confusion among religious folks regarding this word due to the fact that the English form “hell” actually represents three different terms in the Greek New Testament. Lets begin to examine this matter.

Our first Greek word is Hade. This word is translated “hell” ten times in the KJV. Many of the new versions of the Bible have started using the word Hades instead of hell.

The origin of the word is a bit obscure. The scholars have came up with two basic meanings of this word. The first one is  “not to be seen”  the second possibility is “all receiving”.  The best way to determine how this word is used in the NT is to examine the context in which it is found. There are several different ways in which Hades is used in the New Testament.

In some places Hades is used to describe the general dwelling place of both the evil and good spirits of the dead Notice what Jesus says in

Revelation 1:18  "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

In other words he has the authority to open both the grave which contains the body and to open Hades the realm of the departed soul.  In one of his visions, John sees “death” riding a pale horse, followed by “Hades” (Rev. 6:8). You see we must understand that both death and Hades will be emptied out at the time of the judgment. Notice Rev. 20:13ff affirms this.

Revelation 20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.  14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.  15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire

You see the grave will give up the body, and the spirit  realm will surrender the soul.

Hades is also used sometimes to describe a certain area of the spirit world. Depending upon the context, that area may either be one of punishment or reward.

For example, Jesus warned that the wicked inhabitants of Capernaum (who had rejected his teaching) would go down into Hades (Mt. 11:23; Lk. 10:15) and when the cold-hearted rich man died in the story of the rich man Lazarus  his spirit was found in Hades, a place of torment and anguish (Lk. 16:23-24).

On the other hand, when Christ died, while his body was resting in Joseph’s tomb, Acts 2:27-31 say that his  soul was in Hades (Acts 2:27-31), which elsewhere is called “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This area of Hades is also refered as being in “Abraham’s bosom,” which describes a place of comfort as Lazarus experienced at the end of his life. In that same story we also learn that there was great gulf between these 2 areas of comfort and punishment. (Lk. 16:26).


This word comes from the Greek word tartaroo and is only used one time in the NT.

Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;


Even though this a different Greek word it is translated as hell in our Bibles.

Strongs dictionary has this to say about this Greek word. the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds.

Based on context our word is used to designate the place that evil angels are held until the day of judgment where they we face ultimate destiny in Gehnna which will be our 3rd Greek word we will look at in minute. This backed up by what Jesus says will happen on the day of judgment in,

Matthew 25:41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

In Peters us of the word Tartarus there isn’t any indication that we should assign some extraordinary meaning to this word. I believe it is reasonable to conclude that tatarus is the specific name of that part of Hades that is used to punish both the rebellious angels and humans before the judgment day.

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,


Peter is telling us as he wrote this those who are in that realm are undergoing continual punishment as they wait for the day of judgment. This is also indicated by how the rich man was suffering and just wanted  one drop of water in the area of Hades that he was in.


This Greek word describes the eternal dwelling place of those who die apart from God. The word is found twelve times in the Greek New Testament. Jesus himself uses this word 11 times. It interesting to note that Jesus spoke of “hell” more frequently than he did of  “heaven.”

The word Gehenna comes from an Old Testament Hebrew expression, “the valley of Hinnom,” which was used to describe  a ravine on the southern side of Jerusalem. This valley was used by certain apostate Hebrews as a place where their children were offered into the fiery arms of the pagan god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; 2Kings 28:3). It was deemed  an area of suffering and weeping. When Josiah the king started going around and destroying the false idols this valley was considered as a site of dreadful abomination (2 Kgs. 23:10-14). It finally became the garbage dump of Jerusalem where there was a continual burning of waste. Since the word Gehenna is associated with these ideas, it very appropriate that this word symbolically represents  the place of suffering to which all evil people will be sent to after Jesus comes back again. Let us now consider the New Testament passages in which Gehenna is mentioned.

Jesus spoke of Gehenna several times in his “Sermon on the Mount.” For instance, he said in

Matthew 5:22  whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.  

This does not mean that a legitimate use of the term “fool” (or its derivatives) is prohibited because it used in several instances in the scriptures(cf. Psa. 14:1; 1 Cor. 15:36; Gal. 3:1). What the Lord is condemning is the explosive use of belittling words for the sake of venting one’s personal rage.

We have another passage where Jesus is emphasizing the importance of keeping yourself out of the dreaded place called Gehenna.

Matthew 5:29 "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  30 "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Jesus is not telling us to literally do this but he makes the analogy to get realize how important it is that we remain out of this place. 

On another occasion, the Lord said:

 Matthew 10:28  "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell

You might remember in Mathew 23 when Jesus was really rebuking  the Jewish leaders s who were on the brink of crucifying their own Messiah, Jesus charged:

Matthew 23:15  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves

Matthew 23: 33 "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?

The final use of Gehenna in the New Testament is where James tells us that the tongue “is set on fire of hell” (3:6). I thing this suggests that the ability to control one’s tongue (speech) is about as difficult as it would be to contain the continuously raging (the participle is a present tense) flames of Gehenna.  Or maybe it refers to the destructive quality of the tongue. Now that we have examined the scriptures that use this word let now turn our focus to the.  

The Nature of Gehenna

There are several important truths regarding the punishment of Gehenna that we need to consider.  

Body and Soul

Gehenna is a state that involves both the resurrected body and the soul.

John 5: 28 "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice  29 "and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. See also Acts 24:15

From this passage we learn that both the righteous and the unrighteous will be resurrected from the dead. We can also see that Jesus clearly teaches us that the body as well as the soul will face the agonies of Gehenna.

Matthew 10:28  "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. See also Mt. 5:29-30

Notice both body and soul are included in the passage.

Another thing we learn about Gehenna is that those who find themselves there will be Conscious. Gehenna involves a state of awareness. It is very important that we understand this point, because there are those who claim that the wicked will eventually be annihilated. However this is a flawed concept. Those who teach this would appeal to the same passage that we just looked at in Mat 10:28. When Jesus said God can destroy both body and soul they take the word destroy to mean that they will be annihilated. However, this is not what this word means. The Greek word used here is apollumi {ap-ol'-loo-mee} and is used about 92 times in the NT and is translated as destroy, perish, loss or lost. This term does not suggest annihilation. Let me two examples.

When the prodigal son was in the far country, he was “lost” (apololos), that is seperated from the blessings of his home, but he was not annihilated. Jesus affirmed in Mat. 18:11 that he came to save that which was lost (apololos). I think we can all agree that the Lord did not come to save folks who were in a state of non-existence!

“In every instance where the word apollumi is found in the New Testament, something other than annihilation is being described” (Morey, 90).

Regarding apollumi, Vine notes: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (211).

Thayer defines apollumi, in connection with Matthew 10:28, as follows: “to devote or give over to eternal misery” (64).

Now lets get back to idea that a person will be conscience in the dreadful place called Gehenna and will suffer great agony. First of all this place  is depicted as a place of “unquenchable fire” (Mk. 9:44) – I believe this describes the extreme torments which the wicked will suffer in this final abode after their judgment.

Jesus also spoke of Gehenna as a place “where their worm dies not” (Mk. 9:48). This worm that will not die is symbolize the unending torment of the condemned.

Again Jesus describes Gehenna as a place of “everlasting punishment.” (Mat. 25:46). I think everybody can understand that punishment implies consciousness. It would be absurd to describe those who no longer exist as being “punished.” Consider this next passage.

Revelation 14: 10 "he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11 "And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."

 Here a real simple question how can a wicked person be tormented with fire day and night without rest if they are not conscience of what is going on? The answer is simple they have to be conscience in order to be tormented.

Finally we could ask one more question. If the condition of the rich man in Hades was one of “anguish” (odunao - “to suffer pain”), though it involved only the soul, does it seem likely that the ultimate punishment of Gehenna, which involves both body and soul, would be any less painful?

In conclusion it must be stressed that the punishment of those in Gehenna is unending. The fire is “unquenchable” (Mt. 3:12). This word means that which cannot be extinguished. The  punishment of the wicked after death will never cease...” One commentator had  an excellent discussion of the use of “eternal” in Matthew 25:46.

"But some are of the opinion that this punishment shall have an end: this is as likely as that the glory of the righteous shall have an end; for the same word is used to express the duration of the punishment, as is used to express the duration of the state of glory.


This brings to the end of our study tonight. I hope it has deepened your understand of the word hell in the NT. While the study has mainly focused on 3 different word which is usually translated hell in our Bibles we have also learned a great deal about the agony and torture that awaits those who are not obedient to Gods will. So the things we have looked should really make you think about how you have been living your life and just how important it is to know that if you are Christian Jesus has made it possible for us to escape that dreadful place. We as Christian should rejoice everyday knowing we don’t have to taste the agonies of hell. It should also get us to thinking of how important it is for us to try our best to lead as many people as we can to God so they to can escape the pits of hell.  



The majority of this lesson came from Wayne Jackson’s article which can be found on his website http://www.christiancourier.com.